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Funakoshi's 20 precepts (Shotokan niju kun) part 1

Created as a guideline for his students, Funakoshi's "20 instructions", sometimes known as "20 precepts" or "niju kun" is a set of guidelines that can be useful for practitioners of any martial arts style. Knowing these principles may be helpful, as long as one understands and ultimately applies the distilled wisdom contained in them. To help martial artists interpret and understand these lines of distilled wisdom, we seeked help from three Shotokan Karate masters. This article, the first of a serie of 4, shall analyse the first 5 precepts.

Shihan Jan Knobel, 8th Dan

Shihan Jan Knobel, has been practicing Traditional Karate for more than 30 years during which, he practice with many  Japanese master who are considered by many as legends. Sensei Knobel is a proven competitor having won the titles of European champion 2nd in Johannesburg during the World Championships 1993 and World champion in Greece 1996. He is also an accomplished coach, having led his students to podiums on several international competitions.

Sensei Knobel is the founder of the World JKA Karate Association (WJKA), a non-political organization that is based on the teachings and methodology of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) of the 1960's through to the early 1980's under the leadership of Masatoshi Nakayama.


Shihan Koss Yokota, 8th Dan

Shihan Koss Yokota is a 8th Dan Shotokan master who started his martial arts journey in the Hyogo Prefecture, more than 45 years ago. In 1981 and 1982, he was crowned champion of the Hyogo prefecture which he represented at the JKA All National Championship in Tokyo.

He currently serves as the technical director of the World JKA Karate Alliance (WJKA) and has recently published a book named "Shotokan Myths", in which he exposes myth and misconceptions many western Karate practitioners have.


Sensei Daniel Adams, 1st Dan

Sensei Daniel Adams started practicing Shotokan karate in 2002, at LMCKS, a dojo located at his workplace, where he works as an Engineer. Training at the workplace proved insufficient for Sensei Adams appetite, prompting him to join the closest JKA affiliated dojo, then lead by Shihan Chanh Chau Tran and Shihan Yukata Katsumata. 

He currently acts as the lead instructor at LMCKS, where he teaches the benefits of Traditional Shotokan Karate to friends and collegues throughout the corporate campus.




Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto a wasaru na 
1. Karate-do begins and ends with bowing. 
 Alternate translations:
-   In karate, courtesy is from beginning to end
-   Rei (salute) before, Rei after.

Shihan Knobel:  In karate one should show respect in order to receive respect. An opponent should be approached with respect, arrogance is a no no. Misjudgment is the correct word I believe.

Sensei Adams: In that precept, I can see two important words: “do” and “bow”. I see "do" as the words "the way", meaning your life or the way you live and the word "bow" as the word "respect", so, that precept from my point of view can be interpreted as "In your life as a karateka, everything you do, do it with respect. Respecte toi et respecte les autres. (French for: Respect yourself and respect others) 
Karate ni sente nashi 
2. There is no first strike in karate.
 Alternate translations:
-  Karate does not start with provocation
-  Only use karate as a means of self defense.

Shihan Knobel: A karateka never starts a fight. In my opinion more or less the same as “Mentality over Technique”. 
Sensei Adams: Do not practice karate or follow the karate-do to be able to attack, but rather to be able to defend yourself when you have no other choice. With your body or with your voice, never attack but always be ready to escape in safe manner. 
Karate wa, gi no taske
3. Karate stands on the side of justice.
Alternate translations:
-   Only practice karate with a sense of justice in its mind
-   Karate is a martial art of honor and righteousness (as opposed to being a tool for bandits and thugs)

Shihan Knobel: I will go for Honesty. So karate is a matter of honesty. Justice for one person could be injustice for the other. 
Sensei Adams: On the other side from the previous precept, if you follow the karate-do, never let the injustice take the first position. It is our role to defend the justice but not in an aggressive manner... 

Mazu onore o shire, shikashite ta o shire
4. First know yourself, then know others.
Alternate translations:
-  Understanding of self will lead to understanding of others
-  Karate is about the discovery of the self.

Shihan Knobel: If you know yourself, you might get an idea how a person (opponent) will react in a certain situation. In this way one can be prepared. Let’s say expect the unexpected. 
Sensei Adams: When you follow the karate-do, at the beginning, you discover how YOU react in front of people, when you become an expert, you discover how the people react in front of you. Note that I'm always using karate-do and not only karate, because all those precepts are applicable to your whole life not only when practicing karate.  

Gijitsu yori shinjitsu
5. Mentality over technique.
Alternate translations:
-  Mental strength is more determinant than physical strength
-  A correct heart  (mind) is better than a correct technique.

Shihan Knobel: If a Karateka has a strong mentality and it shows, nobody will attack him. Mind over mind, mind over body. 
Sensei Adams:  I often heard from masters, that we only need to master two really good techniques to win a kumite and I was wondering: "How can we win with ONLY two techniques?". When we know that precept, we can better understand the masters: if you have only two good techniques, but you are mentally solid, you can move mountains. You will be confident enough of yourself with your two good techniques to succeed and prove that you CAN.

Shihan Yokota: This is a difficult one so I will comment on this prescript.

Gijutsu's literal meaning is skills and he means karate skills. Shinjutsu means mental techniques.  He is not saying karate skills are not important.  What he is saying that we only practice the physical aspect of karate techniques (kicks and punches).  However, we do not pay enough attention to our mind set.  And this mind set could include patience, bravery, courtesy, kindness, determination, quick decision making, etc. that are all important when you face a danger. And this "danger" does not mean only a fight or an attack from an enemy.  It could mean an accident, natural disasters and any unexpected events or occurrences.

Here is an example: 

Imagine that you came across with a car accident and this car is burning badly.  You see a passenger is trapped in there.  You do not know if this person is still alive or not.  You could kill yourself if you go to the car as it may explode at any moment.  Will you risk your life and try to save this person?  Or will you just stand there and watch this person burn to death?  Here, your karate skills will not help.  What you need is a quick decision making and swift action that would or could save this person and yourself.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 18:26  

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